Jaret Daniels, a researcher in entomology and nematology for the Florida Museum of Natural History, describes why he enjoys working on native pollinator conservation.
Interview and videos produced by Emily Murphy for Explore Research at the University of Florida.
Jaret Daniels: So, I was fortunate as a child I grew up in rural Wisconsin and my parents were very encouraging. I had a large piece of property to play around on and I was always really interested in plants, bugs, birds, and I just landed on insects as a group that I really was fascinated with and I really knew I wanted to be a conservation biologist.
I focused on insects because at that time the field of insect conservation biology was an emerging area and since then I focused on native pollinator conservation and at-risk butterfly conservation and it’s been a great career for me.
Monarch Butterfly Populations
My lab works on insect conservation and we focus on a lot of at-risk butterfly species and one of the focal species is the monarch. We’re very interested in better understanding of the ecology of the monarch in Florida and particularly looking at resources such as roadways, and how they might support the monarchy recolonization in the spring and what resources they might provide during the breeding season.
We teamed up with the Department of Transportation on a project to map the native milkweed along North Florida roadways, managed roadways by Department of Transportation. This was a year-long project where we went out on almost all managed roadways around North Central Florida, and looked at two focal species of milkweeds: Pinewoods milkweed, which is a very beautiful little purple flowered milkweed that’s one of the most important for the return migration in the spring, and then butterfly weed, this is a charismatic bright orange species.
Over the course of the year we map those locations and also identified high-density locations of these milkweed species. What we found is that, not surprisingly, roadways harbor very high densities of these milkweed populations, which provide resources for the monarch, both in nectar and of course as larval host plants for their developing caterpillars. These densities were, in many locations, extremely high. So we mapped these locations and we are currently trying to work with the Department of Transportation to minimize mowing of these high density locations to ensure that the plants are vegetative for the monarch to utilize, lay their eggs on, and for their developing larvae to complete development. And also so that the milkweeds go through their life cycle, flower and produce seed, so these populations can grow over time
Learn more about the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the Florida Museum.
Learn more about the Daniels Lab at the Florida Museum.